Monthly Archives: February 2021

Despite claims NZ’s policing is too ‘woke’, crime rates are largely static and even declining – The Conversation AU

Posted: February 28, 2021 at 10:42 pm

When National MP Simon Bridges called Police Commissioner Andrew Coster a wokester recently, his intention was apparently to suggest the police are too soft on crime.

Debating the concept of policing by consent during a recent select committee hearing, Bridges asked Coster: Do the police still arrest people in this country?

One inference to be drawn from Bridgess statements is that crime in New Zealand is increasing, possibly due to lenient policing.

To test that, we collected publicly available crime data from New Zealand Police. To measure any recent patterns we looked at data for the past six years, 2015 to 2020.

The first category we looked at is what the police call victimisation. This includes the total number of cases involving:

Out of the six categories, it is clear most crimes involve injury, burglary and theft. The numbers for the other three crimes are negligible.

But the pattern is clear there is no significant increase in crime across the six years, and there is no significant increase in any of the individual components.

A potential concern with the broad victimisation measure is that it may not fully capture the specific nature of crimes. For example, it is possible some crime is concentrated in certain locations and some victims are falling prey multiple times.

Read more: Policing by consent is not woke it is fundamental to a democratic society

But if we look at the number of unique victims, we are now only counting each victim once, irrespective of how many times they were victimised during the 12 months in question.

According to the police, this data set can be used to understand repeat victimisation patterns.

Once again the pattern is clear there is no evidence of any significant increase in the number of unique victims over the past six years.

Victims, of course, are only one part of the story. We can also look at the number of unique offenders.

Here we see a steady decline in the number of offenders. Again, one could look at multiple ways of measuring this, but the evidence presented above does not suggest a massive increase in offending.

Read more: The Christchurch commissions call to improve social cohesion is its hardest and most important recommendation

In the next two figures we drill down a little further and look at two separate and specific types of crimes.

Figure 4 looks at illicit drug offences. This is important because the general data on victimisation does not include so-called victimless crimes (such as drug possession).

Here, there is evidence of an increase, albeit a modest one: roughly 13%, from 8,772 in 2015 to 9,924 in 2020. It is possible this is due to either increased drug offences or to increased prosecutions.

Finally, in Figure 5 we look at a category that tends to involve small numbers but receives great attention in political debates: prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives offences.

Again we see a modest increase of about 14%, from 3,747 in 2015 to 4,281 in 2020.

Objectively, it seems hard to make the case that crime in New Zealand has increased dramatically over the past six years. In fact, some categories of crime may have actually declined.

But even if crime levels are relatively static, are they still too high?

If we look at the first victimisation measure only, there were a total of 239,519 cases in 2020 from a population of five million. That is approximately five out of every 100 people.

That may not appear to be a very high number, but some of these crimes will be more serious than others. The ideal trend, of course, would be declining numbers to the point of no measurable crime at all.

Unlikely, perhaps, but something Simon Bridges and Andrew Coster might agree on, at least.

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Despite claims NZ's policing is too 'woke', crime rates are largely static and even declining - The Conversation AU

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McGough ’23: There will always be police – The Brown Daily Herald

Posted: at 10:42 pm

As the pandemic spilled into its third month on American soil, our nation was facing a desperate moment millions were newly jobless, two-week lockdowns had stretched into months and tens of thousands of Americans had died from COVID-19.

It is fitting, then, that amid this chaos, Americas original sin reared its ugly head. An exhibition of pure racism, the murder of George Floyd was a disgusting and heinous crime against not just a man but a nation. During one of Americas most politically and economically desperate moments, the police openly failed to protect and serve.

The weeks and months that followed showcased more police failures. Police departments that have been radically overmilitarized were woefully underprepared for the protests that devolved into riots. While cities burned, police failed to protect businesses but somehow managed to spare enough men to terrorize peaceful protestors. Early this year, the nation even witnessed how $516 million could not yield a police department strong enough to protect the Capitol.

Evidently, todays model of public safety with police on the frontline is backward. People are not driven to crime by a dearth of policing but by a complex web of economic and social stressors, so any public safety action should primarily respond to those stressors. Activists accurately recognize that policing victimless crimes, like drug-related ones, can inflict more harm than good. Even worse, when laws against victimless crimes are enforced, they are disproportionately enforced against marginalized communities.

But where some take it too far is when they suggest that this justifies the total abolition or defunding of the police. This notion is wholly wrong and is based on a flawed understanding of how public safety should be delivered. While policing should not be the frontline of public safety, it is an essential tool of public safety.

First, no functioning government can work without a police force. Influential sociologist Max Weber defined the modern state by its monopoly on violence in other words, a government that cannot enforce its laws or protect its citizens loses legitimacy and eventually collapses. Enforcing laws and protecting citizens may mean using force, so our government must be prepared to do so.

Second, there is no suitable replacement for some police functions. Some suggest that the scope of everyday policing could be scaled back and replaced with municipal processes geared toward mediating situations non-violently. Thats fine non-escalatory peacemaking needs to play a larger role in our approach to public safety, especially during the regular day-to-day operations of our communities.

But some episodes, such as riots, terrorist attacks and organized crime, require armed intervention under government authority. Good luck finding white-collared city staff willing to apprehend suspects of violent crimes without arms. Call them police or call them something else, but armed public servants will always perform these functions. Even if expanded social services reduce violent crime, no intervention is perfect cases will slip through the cracks, and someone will have to respond to them.

In these cases, defund movements would leave a vacuum that could be filled by neighborhood militias. From every perspective, this is a terrible consequence. Untrained and under-equipped civilians would be infinitely less accountable, effective and willing to step in when called upon. Without a doubt, in the absence of public police, well-off neighborhoods would choose to subscribe to private policing, capitalizing the human right to safety. If the government will not provide safety, corporations will.

Considering this, there is simply no world where our cities do not operate police forces public employees whose jobs are to deal with dangerous situations will always be necessary.

Reducing funding for police is a more palatable idea, but is still unripe. There are other ways to deliver public safety like with social workers and mental health professionals but many are underdeveloped and not yet scalable. Slashing police budgets prematurely could leave gaps in coverage before proven replacements are well-established. Smaller police budgets should come as a natural by-product of beefing up other public safety responses, not as the impetus for their creation.

When discussing police, Americans need to recognize that at their core, police are public servants tasked with engaging in dangerous situations they should be respected as public servants, but not placed above political debate. Many struggle with this: some elevate police to hero status, making them politically untouchable, while others denigrate them unfairly, failing to recognize the legitimate episodes that require government intervention.

The future of public safety starts by taking police off their pedestal. Not every incident can be resolved by sending in a blue-uniformed deputy, so more policing is not necessarily the answer. On the other side, activists need to help turn down the temperature by acknowledging that our government cannot and will not ever go without a police force.

Police should be the robust last resort of public safety in times of crisis, not the frontline. Instead of defunding or abolishing the police, we should repurpose the institution. Our communities deal with diverse and complex safety issues every day, from homelessness to reckless driving to domestic violence. These situations demand an army of local staff willing and ready to reach out and provide guidance an army that cities already have. Police should be dedicated to providing guidance rather than enforcing punitive ordinances. Instead of patrolling and policing endlessly, they would only emerge when called upon, leaving citizens to decide for themselves when officers are needed.

When needed, police departments would still be capable of responding to violent situations, but would not show up to each situation expecting and thereby manifesting violence. Officers would continue to respond to non-violent situations, but with pamphlets and advice, avoiding the escalatory practices that have traditionally plagued departments. If officers prove unwelcome in these settings, cities can utilize police for these tasks in the interim while they develop suitable municipal systems to replace officers daily duties.

This is the path forward: moving police off the frontlines and shifting some of their duties over time to trusted and proven professionals. Alongside repurposed police, preventative public safety can and should be delivered in new and innovative ways. Policymakers and activists must recognize that police are neither synonymous nor mutually exclusive with public safety, and that police are just one essential tool of any public safety repertoire. When we come together on this key reality, we can and will build a system that will protect more effectively and serve more equitably.

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McGough '23: There will always be police - The Brown Daily Herald

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Local news must do better at speaking truth to power: The Jason Hess case –

Posted: at 10:42 pm

Mount Vernons news coverage of the sexual battery and indecency charges against former deputy Jason Hess failed us.

The county prosecutor reportedly commented that Hesss case was dropped because witnesses did not stay in touch. This was outright victim blaming. But Knox Pages did not ask whether prosecutors offer victims protection if they testify publicly against law enforcement officers, or report how Knox County showed indifference to Hesss victims. Signs of such indifference included:

Women at the jail reported that Hess bought oral sex from and exposed himself to inmates. But at a 2018 disciplinary hearing, the sheriffs office only established that Hess gave his phone number to inmates. They accepted Hess resignation on a technical violation of department policy, never mind sexual exploitation. Indeed, although reported incidents dated back to 2015, the sheriff only responded after the Prison Rape Elimination Act hotline alerted federal authorities.

During the 2019 criminal proceedings, the court allowed Hess to postpone his hearing numerous times. After nearly a year of postponements, Hess planned to plead guilty. He only withdrew his guilty plea the morning of his scheduled hearing.

Finally, Hess only spent one day in jail because his bond was set at 10% of $10,000. This was light for a sexual battery charge. Women charged for victimless drug crimes can have bonds of $20,000-250,000. Such women spend 4-8 months in jail awaiting trial before their charges are dismissed.

Knox Pages also did not follow up on the prosecutors claim that Hess misdemeanor convictions werent worth prosecuting. Felony convictions matter more in some cases (Ohio typically only decertifies officers for felonies). But misdemeanor convictions are not meaningless. Disciplinary records and dismissed charges can be expunged. This means Hess could get rehired as a law enforcement officer. A misdemeanor conviction would show up if anyone in Ohio searched Hess, and it would be hard to expunge because Hess committed a sex crime.

If the municipal prosecutor does not pick up the misdemeanor charges against Hess, it will reinforce what the witnesses in this case knew: No one will make an example ofHess because incarcerated womenssafety doesnt matter to Knox County. The next time they are victimized (and there is always a next time), they will be just as terrified and distrusting of the criminal justice system as they were this time. Local news that fails to hold local law enforcement accountable will share responsibility for that tragedy.

Christina Hambleton

Mount Vernon

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Is it kosher to smoke weed for Purim? – Forward

Posted: at 10:41 pm

The Talmud (Megillah 7b to be exact) tells us to get and Im paraphrasing here totally smashed on Purim, so intoxicated that we cannot tell the difference between the storys villain, Haman, and the hero, Mordechai. But the Talmud doesnt specify which intoxicants to consume. Could you, perhaps, smoke a blunt instead of or even in addition to drinking?

Rabbi Jonathan Leener, who I am proud to consider my rabbi, took on the important question in a letter to Seth Rogen, in which he evaluated the Talmudic arguments for marijuana as a Purim intoxicant and decided that, in most cases, weed would be perfectly acceptable.

When I asked how Rogens question came about, Leener laughed. I made it up, I totally made it up, Leener said. In yeshiva, around when [the month of] Adar starts, people do Purim Torah where they get up and give silly dvar Torahs that are obviously a joke. It was inspired, however, by a real question he recently received from a friend.

Rogen, who is known for his stoner comedies and has his own weed company, would probably love to know, though. The actor and director seems to have spent his pandemic year smoking truly ungodly amounts of weed and making pottery ashtrays, presumably for his joints, so its a pertinent question. I think he takes his Jewish identity actually pretty seriously, said Leener.

The central issue of the weed v. wine conundrum, according to Leener, is whether the focus of the Talmudic injunction is the state of intoxication or the substance consumed.

Given that the state of intoxication does seem to be the goal, with no further specifications, theres no reason why marijuana wouldnt achieve it. In fact, as he pointed out in his letter, it might even be a more transcendent experience, and the ensuing munchies might enhance the Purim seudah meal.

While cannabis is largely missing from Jewish texts, it is mentioned in the Shulchan Arukh, where it is listed as an acceptable oil to use for lighting Shabbat candles; we pondered whether that would result in hotboxing the dinner table, and decided it would depend on how cleanly the oil was burning. In any case, that would imply it is a generally acceptable substance.

Courtesy of iStock

A live shot of King Ahasuerus deciding to call his wife in to dance naked for him and his friends.

The argument for wine is more textually rooted; Leener argues that wine has a central role in the Book of Esther. The first chapter, as an example, is about Ahasueruss epic party, he said, I kind of imagine it that he is drunk with all of the people and coming up with this idea to have Vashti come.

And theres gematria, a system of assigning numerical values to Hebrew letters, often accompanied by a hidden meaning. The biblical commentator Rashi tied wine to the revelation of secrets, since the word for wine in Hebrew has the same gematria value as the word sod, which means secret. The inference is that drinking wine leads to the revelation of secrets, an important theme in the Purim story, where the revelation of Esthers secret Jewish identity saves the Jewish people.

On a more serious note, Leener said Purim feels deeply necessary this year, and hopes the holiday can act as a release valve, while still being celebrated safely. Weve been surrounded with so much darkness and death. The whole year has felt like being in Shushan, on the verge of something horrible happening, right? he said. So I think anything that can help people have a couple of hours where they can detach from whats going on and enjoy the holiday will be very beneficial.

The rabbi thinks the permissibility of weed is going to be discussed increasingly seriously in Jewish circles as weed is legalized more widely. (He is careful to only endorse marijuana use for those living in an area where it is legal.) People kibitz about this now, but its going to become even a bigger issue as weed becomes more recognized and socially acceptable, he said.

And hes already prepping for the next holidays marijuana debate. There is a question about whether weed is kitniyot, for Pesach, he said. Maybe we can do a followup story.

Mira Fox is a fellow at the Forward. Get in touch at or on Twitter @miraefox.

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Is it kosher to smoke weed for Purim? - Forward

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Talmud on the Mind: Exploring Chazal & Practical Psychology to Lead a Better Life – The Jewish Voice

Posted: at 10:41 pm

(Maseches Berachos) by Rabbi Dr. Ethan Eisen (Kodesh Press, 2020)Reviewed by: Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

This extremely enjoyable book offers about fourteen short essays on various ideas related to psychology and psychobiology. The author uses the mention of some of these ideas in Maseches Berachos to further expand on them and present his own novel interpretations. Throughout the book, traditional Jewish sources and academic/popular medical sources are used side-by-side to present new ways of looking at the various topics discussed. The author compares and contrasts how these two different types of sources address each given issue, and uses data from one corpus to fill in lacuna in the others. At the close of each chapter, Rabbi Dr. Eisen offers practical Lessons for Today that bring home the point of that chapter and tie it in to something more useful.

In his opening chapter, Eisen talks about how the rabbis preferred antidote to the pox of procrastination echoes the famous words of Nikes iconic slogan: Just do it. This simple, but effective advice encourages people to overcome their indolence and dithering, and puts an end to the use of delay tactics. Eisen further develops this idea by showing how the Halakhic principle of zerizim makdimim lmitzvos preempts mans dilly-dallying and allows a person the freedom to live a more productive and meaningful life. He also draws on various psychological studies to probe the cognitive and behavioral causes of procrastination.

In another chapter, Eisen discusses how consistent synagogue-attendance alleviates many of the problems associated with loneliness, and how studies even seem to support the Talmudic assertion that such regular attendance contributes to longevity. As Eisen so cleverly puts it, 80% of life is just showing up.

One of the most creative and powerful essays that Eisen presents discusses the so-called IKEA effect which asserts that people value things according to the amount of effort that they put in to achieving or building that thing. Eisen uses this idea to explain why the Talmud assumes that Chana was so intent on Eli sparing the life of her son Shmuel, when she could have just as easily allowed Eli to put Shmuel to death and prayed for her to be granted another son.

This reviewer was particularly interested in Eisens chapter on colors. He asks the age-old question of how a person can ever be certain that what he sees is the same thing that someone else sees. Color obviously has various Halachic ramifications, and the question of how different people might perceive the same color has implications for psychology, social studies, and even linguistics. This chapter uses the disagreement amongst Halachic authorities over how to exactly define the color of techeiles as a sort of case study to make generalizations into the question of color. [One opinion that the author omitted is that of Rabbi Yair Chaim Bachrach (16391702) who characterized the color of techeiles as purple.]

Another discussion related to psycholinguistics is the cultural phenomenon of giving people a few seconds to finalize their statements and decisions. For chess players, this leeway allows a person to retract his move until he lifts his fingers from the chess piece that he moved, and in Halacha, this leeway allows a person to delay the effects of his Halachic speech-acts until what we call toch kdai dibbur (roughly, the amount of time it takes to greet another person) has passed. This leeway is not to be taken for granted in all cultures, yet Eisen shows how it has some basis in the neurosciences.

Eisen also offers a few discussions that arent quite related to psychology, per se, but do touch on issues related to the human body. For example, he offers a chapter that discusses the physiological effects of shame and humiliation, which lead to both blushing and the paling of ones face. The rabbis, of course, refer to embarrassing another as whitening the face of ones fellow. Another chapter explores King Davids sleeping habits and considers the effects of a midnight candle on a persons circadian rhythm. While on the surface these types of discussions seem more related to physiology, their effects are also studied by research psychologists and applied by clinical psychologists.

What is arguably the most important chapter of this book is saved for last. In this last chapter, Eisen shows how the sensitivity to so-called microaggressions is not just a post-Modern oversensitivity, but has a basis in basic human decency. He demonstrates how the Torah and Talmud are sensitive to the plight of victims and the down-trodden, leading to the expectation that Jews be especially vigilant in avoiding even miniscule acts of aggression.

The matters discussed in this book are loosely arranged by their appearances in Maseches Berachos and this reviewer looks forward to seeing similar books by Rabbi Dr. Eisen on other parts of the Talmud. Rabbi Dr. Eisen is trained in both rabbinics and psychology, using his mastery of each to complement our knowledge of the other. With witty chapter titles and easy-to-read discussions, this book is truly delightful and informative.


Talmud on the Mind: Exploring Chazal & Practical Psychology to Lead a Better Life - The Jewish Voice

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Your Shabbat table is magic. No, really. The rabbis said so. – The Jewish News of Northern California

Posted: at 10:41 pm

TheTorah columnis supported by a generous donation from Eve Gordon-Ramek in memory of Kenneth Gordon.TetzavehExodus 27:2030:10

Daughter: Did you know that our Shabbat table is like magic?

Father: Thats nice. Help me set it then. And how is it like magic?

Daughter: Because it replaces the Temple of Jerusalem and makes up for its destruction.

Father: Get the challah cover, please. And where did you learn this?

Daughter: Its my Torah and haftarah portions for my bat mitzvah, Tetzaveh. Like, typically, the haftarah is thematically linked to the Torah reading. But in my case, it is certainly that, but so much more. In my Torah portion we build the Mishkan

Father: The what?

Daughter: You know, the Tabernacle in the desert. And my haftarah, from the Book of Ezekiel, marks the end of the First Temple. We do rebuild the Temple in Persian period, have it through the Greek period, but lose it again in the Roman period, through today. No bother, we have our Shabbat Table. We even survived the loss of the Ark of the Covenant.

Father: How do you know all of this? And where are the Shabbat candles?

Daughter: On the Jew Oughta Know podcast. And from my teachers I learned that Ezekiel knows this because he was born in the Land of Israel, then, in the year 434 BCE, Jerusalem was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar exiled the Jewish king Jehoiachinalong with 10,000 captives, including the kings family, the nobility of the land and the leaders of the army. Among the refugees was Ezekiel. In 586 BCE, the Temple was destroyed.

Father: Put the challah in the oven, its almost dinner time. Tell me, what does your friend Ezekiel say?

Daughter: He shares his vision: make known to them the plan of the Temple and its layout, its exits and entrances its entire plan, and all the laws and instructions pertaining to its entire plan. Write it down before their eyes, that they may faithfully follow its entire plan and all its laws. (Ezekiel 43:11)

Father: What good is that? Were the exiles in Babylonia in any position to build the Temple?

Daughter: Right. There is a Midrash (Tanchuma, Tzav 14) that gives a dramatic voice to Ezekiel: Master of the World! The Jews are exiled in the land of their enemies, and You are telling me to inform them of the Temples dimensions? Are they able to build it now? Wait until they are redeemed from exile, and then I will tell them! God responds: Just because My children are in exile, My home should not be built? Tell them to study the form of the Temple, and it will be as if they are actually building it! Thats a cool move. Before digital virtual reality, there was textual virtual reality. As we read about it, imagine it, and abracadabra, its there.

Father: Table is set, food is ready, wine is here, almost time to light candles. Before we bring in the whole household, explain to me how this set table for Shabbat replaces the Tabernacle and the Temple?

Daughter: Talmud. Also, from Babylonia! The rabbis want us to have a long mealtime so that a person who does not have meal might have time to show up. While talking about tables, they do a mashup of Ezekiel 41:22 and 43:13:

The altar, three cubits high and the length thereof, two cubits, was of wood, and so the corners thereof; the length thereof, and the walls thereof, were also of wood and it is written: And he said unto me: This is the table that is before the Lord. The verse begins with the altar and concludes with the table. As long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel. Now, a persons table atones. (Berakhot 55a)

Father: Shabbat Shalom

Daughter: In our home.

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Your Shabbat table is magic. No, really. The rabbis said so. - The Jewish News of Northern California

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The Jewish Education Night of Networking Yeshiva University News – Yu News

Posted: at 10:41 pm

On Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration, along with the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and supported by the Shevet Glaubach Center for Career Strategy and Professional Development, hosted the Jewish Education Night of Networking.

The event began with a welcome from Dr. Rona Novick, dean of Azrieli Graduate School, in which she addressed both the stresses for Jewish educators brought on by the pandemic as well as the strategies and innovations being developed to support them and their schools. Underscoring the role of spirituality, finding fun, being flexible and actions to make a difference, Dr. Novick reminded educators that in order to care for their students, they need resources. Just as the stewardess reminds you, in case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, she noted, affix your oxygen mask before helping others: you need to find ways to take care of yourselves.

Attendees then had the opportunity to visit online presentations by the faculty of Azrieli, Revel and RIETS as well as by representatives of Jewish schools and educational organizations. These included included brief lectures on relevant topics and introductions to the work and culture of various Jewish day schools.

The discussions touched upon such topics as teaching the Holocaust, incorporating the teachings of Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] to support social-emotional learning, the importance of Jewish philosophy, managing loss, how to give a model lesson and making Gemara [Talmud] relevant for students.

Presenters included Dr. Karen Shawn (associate professor of Jewish education at Azrieli), Dr. Shay Pilnik (director, Emil A. and Jenny Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies), Dr. Daniel Rynhold (dean, Revel Graduate School) Dr. Scott Goldberg (associate professor of education and psychology at Azrieli), and Rabbi David Block and Rabbi Ari Segal of Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, California.

Over 35 schools and other chinuch-related [education] organizations shared the innovations taking place at their schools to engage educators for potential positions. They came from all around the country, including the Midwest (Farber Hebrew Day School of Southfield, Michigan), the Southeast (Margolin Hebrew Academy-Feinstone Yeshiva of the South in Memphis, Tennessee), the West coast (Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles and Southern California Yeshiva High School) and the New York metropolitan area (SAR High School in Riverdale and Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, New Jersey).

Those who attended appreciated meeting with representatives from multiple schools and learning about the opportunities available in Jewish education. One Azrieli student who had never considered a job outside the New York metropolitan area said she so enjoyed her visit with representatives from the Addlestone Hebrew Academy of Charleston, South Carolina, that she envisioned taking a job there.

The success of the Night of Networking can be measured in the 150 people attending nearly 70 different presentations throughout the evening. In the coming weeks, the Shevet Glaubach Center will be sending the rsums of attendees to presenters so that people can build upon the connections made during the Night of Networking that will ultimately strengthen the field of Jewish education.

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Jonah Sanderson Successfully Navigates His Disability, Aims to Make Jewish Community More Inclusive – Jewish Journal

Posted: at 10:41 pm

Thirty-two-year-old Jonah Sanderson describes himself like a bottle of his favorite single malt scotch. When you first put your nose to it, the smell is caramel, shoe leather and tar and you think, This is strange, who would drink this? But then you sip it and you get to love it. And thats who I am.

Those who have met the activist and Los Angeleno know Sanderson is strong-willed and determined. His father told him growing up that he could do anything he wanted in life, he would just have to work harder than the average person.

What people might not know about Sanderson is that he was born with intrauterine growth retardation syndrome. At nine years old he was diagnosed with a non-verbal learning disability, which means that the right side of my brain works differently and processes information differently than my left side of my brain. After going to the Los Angeles Regional Center as a child, Sanderson was misdiagnosed with mild mental retardation. For the next 13 years, he failed his classes, dropped out of school and wasnt able to fully come to terms with the repercussions of his misdiagnoses until he was 17.

Since disabilities are on a spectrum, Sanderson didnt fit neatly in any specific category. Not having the resources because institutions, educators and community leaders werent properly equipped, he wasnt sure where to turn.

Then at 22, he had an awakening. He decided to invest himself and his time learning about Judaism.

You dont have to have a high school education to be part of the Jewish people, Sanderson said. I looked every day for a year for a Jewish community that was welcoming and inclusive. I found my mentor and almost a second father to me, Rabbi Yitz Jacobs. He gave me self-confidence. He said to me, You can do anything you want to do. I see you no differently than I see anyone else.

You dont have to have a high school education to be part of the Jewish people.

Jacobs, who is a rabbi at Aish Los Angeles, took Sanderson under his wing and taught him about Torah, Talmud and Jewish rituals. With his help, Sanderson moved to Israel for two years, studied with Aish, made friends and lived on his own for the first time.

Jonah is so smart, he is so articulate. There are so many ways he can learn. We just had to work on who he was and how he learns, Jacobs told the Journal. Hes overcome so many challenges and used them as opportunities. Im so proud of him.

When he returned home, he came back and told his parents he not only wanted to finish school and graduate, but attend college and rabbinical school, no matter what it took.

In 2016 he graduated high school and in 2020 Sanderson graduated college with a BA in criminal justice. In May, he will be the first person with a non-verbal learning disability to receive a masters degree from the Academy for Jewish Religion California (AJRCA).

When Sanderson enrolled at AJRCA, he had come to terms with his disability, but wasnt very public about it. Though his mild disability wasnt visible, he went to speak with AJRCA President Rabbi Mel Gottlieb to create a plan for success, since the school never had a reason to modify programs for students with disabilities.

AJRCA did a mitzvah. They took somebody like me and they allowed me to become a Jewish leader and they let me grow my soul, he said. Because they took me, I managed to get three more people with differing disabilities through the door one with the same diagnoses as me and this person is becoming a chaplain.

Gottlieb said the school was open to adapting its curriculum to make it more inclusive. The whole experience was not only educational and impactful for Sanderson but also for the other rabbinical students, teachers and staff.

If we were to accept students with disabilities, we had to provide them with support and learn how to educate them in ways that would be user-friendly, without compromising the classroom situation and the expectations to pass the class, Gottlieb said. We used it as a challenge for our school to accept differences and to learn greater patienceThe term learning disability is broad. We have to educate ourselves that one way of learning doesnt fit for all If everyone works together in an understanding manner then progress is made.

Sanderson was now working with educators to create a plan specifically for him, instead of fitting into a category. Sanderson said while he holds a great deal of respect for the Jewish community, he struggled growing up to find mentors and spaces like AJRCA that were willing to help him succeed and not shut him out. He was kicked out of Jewish day schools, misdiagnosed by local institutions and felt alienated from his community, even when the intentions were meant to be helpful not harmful.

They might have good intentions, but more often than not these kids are charity cases, Sanderson said. You get volunteer hours and volunteer with kids who are atypical but then youre not friends with them outside of school. You dont see them in the community, it looks better for the other person. What rabbis need to do and what I hope to do when I get ordained, is to create communities where we are saying, We are going to be inclusive and no person is unlike any other person. That is what matters.

During his time at AJRCA, Sanderson has advocated for social justice causes that are important to him, including fighting for the LGBTQ community, the Black community, minorities and implementing suicide prevention and mental health services in the Jewish community. He has also chosen to add disability activist to his line of work.

When I came out about my story, several people let me know something similar happened to their child, Sanderson said.

On Feb. 21, Sanderson and Rabbi Cantor Cheri Weiss, founder of San Diego Outreach Synagogue, hosted a Zoom event that coincided with JDAIM: Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month. After hearing Sandersons story, she wanted him to speak with members of the Southern California Jewish community.

Jonah wanted to focus on the positive aspects of his story, which is in line with the positive way he approaches life in general, Weiss said. He focuses on what he can do rather than what he cannot. In turn, this inspires others who may be facing their own personal challenges. Belief in yourself is the first step to overcoming these challenges. Having people who believe in you is the other part of the equation. Jonah found both.

Weiss and Sanderson teamed up for the event because they both believe that the Jewish community is responsible for and benefits from welcoming and including people of all backgrounds. Weiss added, celebrating our diversity makes our Jewish community stronger and more vibrant.

One of the first people outside of his family Sanderson was able to open up to about his disability was Alisha Pedowitz, California director of Moving Traditions. After meeting at an event about consent following the #MeToo movement for the Jewish Federation, he approached Pedowitz with dozens of questions. Pedowitz, who identifies as a progressive, and Sanderson, who identifies as a George W. Bush Republican, didnt see eye to eye at first. Despite their differences, their friendship blossomed because of their ability to listen and learn from one another. This was especially the case during the 2020 presidential election.

Something I deeply love and appreciate about Jonah [is] when you have these conversations with him, he really listens and really thinks about it even if its counter to his own opinions and perspective, she said.

After discussing the election at length, Pedowitz helped Sanderson choose to vote for now-President Joe Biden. Pedowitz noted how life-changing it has been to witness Sanderson genuinely want to understand other perspectives and opinions, even though he has strong beliefs of his own. [He] genuinely changes the way he sees things following conversations, and takes ownership of that.

Alisha was one of the first people in the Jewish community when I came out [with his disability], to see me as an adult, as an equal, as a partner, Sanderson added. She taught me how to see the God in other people that were different from how I was and to be less black and white. The day I voted for Joe Biden was the best election day since I first voted at 18 and I have her to thank for it.

While he still has time before AJRCA graduation day, he is already thinking of the next steps and the kind of Jewish professional he wants to be. He sees himself becoming an egalitarian conservodox rabbi in the pulpit and doing a lot of outreach. That means continuing advocating for suicide prevention in the Jewish community, advocating for other minorities, confronting injustices and creating spaces where every Jewish person feels seen and respected. He will also do so while not letting his disability define him.

What happens when you talk about your own learning disability is that many people come out and understand your struggles and they identify with them too, he said. Within the last year, I have been vocal about it. Theres a saying from the Talmud which is, If Im not for myself who will be for me? And being only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? That saying is my life and I really never wanted to be a leader in this sense but then I thought, I can just be a leader in every sense.

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Letters to the Editor | The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle –

Posted: at 10:41 pm

Life lesson learned at Beth SamuelI live in Palo Alto now, but I used to live in Ambridge and I went to religious school at Beth Samuel Jewish Center until I was 15. Beth Samuel was a storefront synagogue to begin with. Its former location is now an Ambridge institution, the Maple Restaurant, known for its roast beef sandwich. What used to be the bimah is now the kitchen. When it became a restaurant instead of a synagogue, my father sent the owners, the Pappas family, a good luck horseshoe which is still there. I was about 12 when Beth Samuel moved into the new building at its current location.

My friend in Pittsburgh, one of the handful of girls that made up my entire religious school class, sent me the article from the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle via Facebook. I was so charmed by it, by Beth Samuels religious school still being a functioning institution. More than anything, I was charmed by the students repairing the world with animal treats. It was at Beth Samuel that I learned that Jews must care for animals, and anyone who has known me, knows that the dog eats before we sit down to dinner because the Torah and the Talmud say so. They shrug their shoulders with a there-goes-Natalie-again gesture, but I know I answer to a higher authority. I learned that at Beth Samuel.

Natalie Krauss BivasPalo Alto, California

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In remembrance of Rabbi Abraham Twerski In the early 1980s, I was a young lawyer when a young man charged with vehicular homicide while drunk was referred to me as a client.

The car exploded, incinerating his best friend and sister. As his charred body was inserted into a bag, his hand moved.

When I eventually met the client, he was virtually unrecognizable, given the burns he had suffered from careening into a telephone pole. After dozens of surgeries he was two-sided: One side of his body looked normal, with the other side resembling a skeleton, given the burns.

Given the circumstances, he faced a mandatory three-year jail sentence. No excuses. No exceptions. However, for him prison would be a death sentence. I simply dreaded his court date.

Someone recommended that I contact Rabbi Abraham Twerski. It was then that I learned of his approach and of his clinic, Gateway Rehabilitation Center.

Now, 40 years later, I explicitly remember my one telephone call with the rabbi. I was spent and nervous, but his simple response was: Well take care of him. I had a host of questions. The rabbis response was always, Well take care of him. He never asked for money. It was just that simple refrain.

In court, I argued that no jail could handle my client. When asked by the judge if there was any alternative, I mentioned Rabbi Twerski and Gateway Rehabilitation Center. My clients life was spared. Dr. Rabbi Abraham Twerski took good care of him and countless others.

Mark D. SchwartzBryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Nikki Haley let us downThere are two articles of importance in the Feb. 19 edition of the Chronicle for those of us who are fascinated with politics. The first is Nikki Haley broke with Trump. It could make her a Jewish GOP favorite in 2024. Ambassador Haley will get no support from me as she clearly positions herself to run for the Republican nomination in the next presidential election.

Haley supported Trump through one atrocity after another. She stood by him through the Nov. 3 election and she surely would have remained with him if he had won. Only now, with Trump out of the White House, has she purportedly changed her tune: He let us downhe went down a path he shouldnt have, and we shouldnt have listened to him. I did not ever listen to him or follow him down that path, Ambassador. Why did you?

In her moving opinion essay, A deep abiding thank you to Rep. Jamie Raskin, author Elinor S. Nathanson tells us why patriotic Americans did not follow Trump, his vicious lies, virulent hatred, white supremacist glorification and incitement of deadly violence. Why did the ambassador close her eyes to the many ways in which Trump sought to bring down our country and savage our ideals and values, all of the noble tenets that our country has represented and espoused throughout our history?

A newspaper article recently featured an interview with a professor who has specialized in the study of white supremacist groups. The piece featured a chilling photograph of hundreds of robed Ku Klux Klan members marching in Washington, D.C. in 1925. The professor noted the similarities between that movement and those of similar ilk who have rallied around the Trump presidency. He noted that bigotry is more accepted and out in the open today in significant part because of the tenor of the past four years. The haters no longer feel the need to shield their identities. It is a chilling phenomenon.

There is a level of hypocrisy in both major political parties and in every human being. I try to identify the worst of the hypocrites. Ambassador Nikki Haley is among them. She is the one who let us down because she knew better.

Oren SpieglerPeters Township


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Searching Jewish wisdom for guidance on vaccination | Ohr Chadash | – St. Louis Jewish Light

Posted: at 10:41 pm

It has been almost a year since the start of the pandemic, when life as we knew it came to a screeching halt. Now, vaccines are starting to be distributed, and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Yet some Americans still refuse to get their COVID-19 vaccination for a number of reasons. For those who are uncertain about whether to get the vaccine, Judaism provides a useful guide.

The Torah is far too old a text for ideas such as a vaccine, but it still contains recommendations to deal with health problems and plagues. For example, Leviticus Chapter 13 talks about what a priest should do if someone has leprosy. It starts by saying that the infected person has to report to a priest if they get symptoms. If the priest ruled that the person was infected (based on the guidance that God gave Moses and Aaron), they would have to isolate themselves for seven days and then get reexamined by a priest to see whether they could be allowed back into the community.

Of course, parallels to the ongoing pandemic and quarantine procedures are apparent, but what do Jewish values say about vaccines?

To start, we have to understand one of the best known Jewish values: Love your neighbor as yourself. Simply put, in order to love your neighbor as yourself, you first need to love yourself. This type of thinking is the backbone to how Jewish scholars, and thus Judaism, approach ideas such as getting a vaccine.

In the Talmud, there is a story that is like a Jewish version of the trolley problem, a popular ethics scenario. In this biblical version, you and a stranger are walking on a desolate path that is far from any civilization. With you is a bottle of water that has enough water to allow only one person to make it to the nearest civilization. What should you do?

Throughout our lives, we have been taught that the moral thing to do would be to give the other person the water: to sacrifice yourself for the betterment of another person. Yet if both people act morally, no one will drink and both will die. This is not a favorable outcome, but in times that are less severe, acting selflessly for the betterment of other people is encouraged.

One instance is in the story of Mah Tovu where Balaam, who is sent to curse the Israelites, blesses them after being overcome with awe.

For a long time, there was only one acceptable opinion for how to handle the who should drink the water problem. This opinion came from the sage Ben Patura, who taught that both travelers should drink and die so that neither one of them is responsible for the other persons death.

This is contrasted with Rabbi Akivas commentary that you should put yourself in front of others when there are no other options. As previously mentioned, in order to love your neighbor as yourself, you first have to love yourself. So, the Jewish thing to do in the water scenario would be to drink the water yourself.

Of course there is a lot of controversy over an ethical scenario like this, but what do our values tell us about whether or not we should get a COVID-19 vaccine? Another teaching will help us navigate this decision.

In Shabbat 31a of the Talmud, a gentile will convert to Judaism if a rabbi can teach him the whole Torah while the gentile stands on one foot. When the gentile comes to Hillel, Hillel teaches the man, What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it!

When getting a vaccine, consider asking yourself whether this is good for your neighbor. If there is a line for a vaccine, going around that line, or cutting in, could hurt your neighbor if he or she was supposed to get vaccinated before you. However, when it is your turn to get vaccinated, you should do so because that helps the community.

Moreover, if an opportunity arises in which you can get vaccinated out of turn, and if you dont do so the vaccine would go to waste, then you should take it. By stepping up to make sure the vaccine doesnt go to waste, you help your community by not being wasteful and also by working toward the goal that everyone gets vaccinated.

Judaism promotes community. We need to have 10 people for a minyan, and we celebrate the holidays by gathering with our families. In order to ensure the longevity of these traditions, we need to make sure that we are safe while doing them. If you know that you are in the group that is able to get a vaccine according to your state or county guidelines, then, according to Jewish values, you should be signing up to get vaccinated because you need to be able to take care of yourself.

Furthermore, even once you get vaccinated, you still need to continue to take care of the rest of our community by limiting the spread of the virus. Based on Hillels teaching, we should still be careful when coming in contact with others. Even though you may be shielded from the effects of the virus because of your vaccination, your neighbors may not be. This is an example of helping others after you helped yourself.

No religion says to think solely about yourself. There is always a balance between the community and oneself. During this pandemic, the balance that was communal interconnectedness has been tested time and again. However, if everyone were to get the vaccine when it was made available to them, the community would be a better, healthier place, which, in the end, is all that really matters.

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